Self-Publishers: Who Grants You Permission and Who Tells You No?

quinn-noI read something over on The Passive Voice that has been bugging the crap out of me.

6/ Someone To Say ‘No’ This is the big one. It’s counter-intuitive to most indie authors, and even to many authors who come from traditional publishing. One of the things I love about indie publishing is the freedom. It’s very liberating to not have anyone to shoot down your ideas, to be able to play with different formats of stories or different genres, to take a chance on an idea and see how it flies. That power restores our ability to take a chance on an idea that just won’t let go of our imagination.

But who will tell an indie author if he or she has it totally wrong? As tedious as it can be to build consensus, there is merit in listening to other voices. Where will I find that voice? Everyone I consult in this market is being paid by me. I’m the client of my freelance editor, which reverses the balance of power between us. Just as in the traditional publishing market, I couldn’t tell my editor that I wouldn’t make change X to my book (or do it by Y date), my editor now can’t tell me to make change X. A freelance editor might believe she can’t tell a client indie author things that author won’t want to hear.

Power is held by the one who pays.

(Deborah Cooke–the original article is well worth reading)

I had a strong reaction when I read it. I like to think I’ve gained enough maturity to examine my own reactions before I start spouting off. Plus, I’m horrendously overworked these days and even commenting on blogs is an indulgence. So it’s been sitting inside my head, nagging at me as I wonder why this is wrong.

The answer came the other day while I was engaged in an email conversation with a client. One of the things I said to him was:

Promotion and marketing don’t sell books. Promo and marketing get your name out there. That’s it. What sells books is word of mouth. So you do your promo then act pleasantly surprised if your efforts do result in a few sales. Where your real energy goes is into the stories. You write, get better, write more, get even better, and eventually you figure out what your readers like and then you give it to them, plus some. Every single “overnight success” I know personally has been plugging away for years. You’ll know you’ve “made it” when you have readers arguing over whether you’re best thing since Skippy peanut butter or the worst literary fraud who ever existed.

Here’s the thing, back in the good ol’ bad days of traditional publishing, writers had one road to travel to publication. Submit their work to agents and editors until somebody, somewhere said “Yes.” A writer could spend months or years on the submission/rejection treadmill, and quite often they never did find the right person at the right time to say “Yes.” There are some (I used to be one) who feels that grind builds character and makes writers better writers. I don’t believe that anymore. In fact, I think it’s the opposite. I think the submission/rejection grind wrecked or outright destroyed far more writers than it ever helped–even those who got publishing contracts, and in some cases, especially those who got publishing contracts.

The reason I’ve changed my mind is because the prevailing myth is that the reason agents and editors reject writing is because it’s no good. It’s not just a myth, it’s an outright lie. The ONLY reason any work is rejected is because the agent or editor doesn’t think they can sell it. That’s it. The only reason. One person (or a committee) decides a particular piece of work is unsaleable, and rejects it.

Some agents and editors are better than others at reading the market and knowing what will sell. But the vast majority are just as dumb as the rest of us and so they’re just guessing. I’ve met a lot of publishing house editors and several agents. Some are quite talented at what they do. I’ve never met one who was infallible. Most of them are just like me: established tastes and strong opinions. Unfortunately taste and opinions do not make for good business sense. For example, I love Anne Tyler’s books and I’ve never been able to make it past chapter three in a Nora Roberts novel. Were I an agent or trad editor and something that reminded me of Anne Tyler crossed my desk, I’d dub it good or great, and I’d reject anything that smacked of Nora Roberts. I would tell myself I’m making my decision based on sound business principles, but the reality is, I’m just another goof who can’t see past my own biases.

Ms. Cooke asks: “But who will tell an indie author if he or she has it totally wrong?

My answer is: “Nobody has a right to.”

Writers, editors, and agents have only their own prejudices, tastes and opinions to judge the worthiness of a work. The only people who actually know what will sell are readers.

I do some copy editing and a whole lot of proofreading, and some of the books I work on appeal to my tastes and others don’t. Some are beautifully written, others aren’t. Some are slickly professional, some are rough or even amateurish. It’s not my place to judge a work’s worthiness. In fact, no writer wants to ask me about the saleability of a work because I’m the last person anyone should ask. A former friend and I used to have a running joke: if I adored a story she wrote, chances were it would not sell, but if I hated it, even loathed it, it would not only sell, but probably pick up a few awards along the way. I know what I like and I’m very passionate about it and given time to think I can make pretty good arguments as to why I like or dislike any particular piece of writing. I haven’t a clue about why anybody else likes what they do. I can Monday morning quarterback with the best of them and sometimes I think I can figure out the appeal of best sellers, but it’s just guessing.

If a client asks my advice on how to improve the CRAFT of writing, I can go on for days. I’m pretty good at pinpointing where a writer is interfering with the reader. No writer should ever ask me if they should publish. How the hell should I know? More importantly, I don’t have the power or the right to tell anyone to not publish. As a reader, yes, I can decide if I want to shell out cash and then invest my time, or not. As an editor? Absolutely not.

Back on the submission/rejection grind, a lot of writers did get better. Not because their writing was rejected. It was because they kept writing. If you keep writing, you can’t help but improve because practice really does make perfect.

The trouble with the submission/rejection grind was that a lot of rejected manuscripts ended up in drawers or under the bed or tossed in the garbage. The only thing wrong with them was that some editor or agent (or even a lot of editors and agents) decided they didn’t know how to sell it to readers. Readers, if they knew about all those lost/forgotten/trashed stories, might disagree.

I’m of the mind these days that if you write it, let readers decide if it’s something they might like–and NO ONE ELSE. Not your critique partners, not an editor, not an agent, not a reviewer, and certainly not organizations like Authors United or Authors Guild. The latter can spout all they want about the evils of Amazon and how self-publishers are destroying literature and culture by flooding the market with cheap crap. Reality is, how many of you have ever walked into a book store and said, “Holy shit, there are way too many books! I’m outta here!” No? Yeah, me neither. Do publishers and writers have a discoverability problem? They sure do. Readers don’t, though. Readers know what they like and they know how to find it and they don’t need some “curator of culture” holding their hand. I, personally, don’t give a rip about how many books are published each year. It doesn’t make a bit of difference to me. If I want something, I know how to find it. Everything else is ignored.

Nobody is entitled to reader attention. Everybody has to earn it–whether you’re just starting out, or you’re Douglas Preston of Authors United (who, if you type in his name on Amazon will bring up over 1000 results). If you earn it, you reap sales and accolades and maybe even a living. If you don’t, well, you can either give up or get better.

To my way of thinking, self-publishing the early works is a lot like the submission/rejection grind, EXCEPT for one very important distinction: Instead of seeking out that one person who is guessing your work is salable, you’re putting it out in front of a whole lot of people who actually KNOW if it’s salable or not. You won’t have to wait weeks, months or even years to find out either. You’ll find out in real time. Readers might tell you “No.” They might turn up their noses and ignore you completely. It’s a risk you take. The thing is, it’s YOUR risk. It’s your time, your energy, your vision, your money. If you believe in what you’re doing, then do it, damn it, and don’t waste time seeking permission. If you miss the mark, oh well, roll up your sleeves and try again.

Deborah Cooke said it herself: Power is held by the one who pays.

That I agree with 100%. Except, she means the self-publishing WRITER and I mean the READER.

On the practical side, you might benefit from expert advice, even if you pay for it. Not permission, not validation, not praise, not attaboys, not judgement–advice. There are as many reasons why a particular book doesn’t sell as there are books. It could be timing, it could be packaging, it could be subject matter, it could be the writing itself. It’s all guesswork. As an indie writer/publisher, you’ve got a lot of room to experiment and grow. You’ve got time for readers to find your work (a HUGE advantage over traditional publishing). If you think you could be doing better and should be doing better and can’t figure out on your own how to do better, then it will benefit you to seek advice. But don’t make the mistake of asking anyone–especially someone you’re paying– “Do you like it?” Because it’s pointless. Be specific. “What can I do to improve my writing?” “Is my packaging working?” “How come readers are giving up on my novel after only reading three chapters?” The thing about paying for advice is that you are free to take it, or not. If it rings true to you and you’re capable of following it, you’d be a fool not to. If it doesn’t make sense, then you’re out a few bucks. Big deal.

In the meantime, keep writing, keep publishing, keep putting yourself out there. Let the readers decide. They are the only ones who matter.

They Just Don’t Get It…

I tried to resist the fray, but sue me, I’m weak. So here goes.

gatekeeperHugh Howey and Anonymous X published their first report at authorearnings.com. I won’t go into the details (go read it for yourself), except to say I knew it would cause a shitstorm. To see one example, take a peek at the absurd rebuttal from Dear Author PG posted on The Passive Voice blog. All this comes on the heels of a sudden spate of self-publishing bashing by such luminaries as Steve Zacharius, Robert Gottlieb, Donald Maas and others. (Joe Konrath had a great run fisking their foolishness over on his blog. One example where he fisks Mike Shatzkin.)

As interesting as it all is, I’ve noticed a whole lot of “missing the point” going on.

It’s really not about the money.

Oh sure, money is a measure, an easy way to calculate one’s progress. Money is very nice and pays the bills. But every real writer I’ve ever met (and by real, I mean the passionate, even hypergraphic wordsmiths and storytellers who love nothing more than bringing mere words to life) will write and tell stories even there is no money in it. Their real goal is not money, but readers. Because without readers a piece of writing is incomplete. It exists, it is tangible, but without readers it is dancing on an empty stage in a closed theater or singing in the shower. Readers complete the connection.

Publishing houses know this impulse, this hunger. They know writers will endure almost any abuse in order to be read. For a long, long time they were the only game in town and it was their way or the highway.

Self-publishing is nothing new. Anyone with the bucks to pay for it could get their work printed and bound. But what the individual could not do on any scale was find readers. The publishing houses had a lock on distribution. While a bookstore might carry self-published hiking guides or cookbooks from local authors, they wouldn’t touch a self-published novel. Self-publishers were reduced to hand selling every copy. Unless one were selling books via seminars or workshops, there was no feasible way for the self-publisher to connect with readers.

Because the publishers had so much power, they (of course) abused it. Ever seen a publishing contract? It’s ugly and from what I understand, they are getting uglier. Want to know if your publisher is paying all your royalties? Be prepared to pay a CPA and sign a non-disclosure statement. Want input on your cover, editorial, marketing, distribution, pricing and scheduling? Find another job.

Writers endured it because they had no choice. Because they had no choice, writers were afraid. “The publishing world is small, all those agents and editors talk, so don’t make waves! Don’t piss anyone off! Watch out, if you complain, you’ll get blacklisted!” In public writers LOVED their publishers. In private, in hushed conversations, they shared horror stories. You don’t know pain until a publisher has botched your book–and there is not a damned thing you can do about it. Except take the blame for the lousy sales, that is.

Then there’s the soul-crushing despair that the cycle of submission and rejection can cause. On one hand it’s a badge of honor to be able to say you endured the lengthy response times and form rejections before some agent or editor recognized your brilliance. On the other hand it’s humiliating. Even more so when I see all the nasty mockery and snark by agents and editors all over the net. It’s as if they enjoy humiliating writers. Many probably do. That they would show such disdain publicly says a lot about the general attitude in the industry.

Then along comes Amazon and Smashwords and ebooks and something astonishing happens. Suddenly self-publishing is feasible. Hugh Howey’s Author Earnings data proves, without a doubt, that it is feasible. Self-publishing offers the means for any writer, anywhere, to find readers.

And that’s the real point.

Writers can find readers without the humiliations, the shitty contracts, the bad editorial, the lousy production values and high prices. They can do it without the condescending attitudes, disrespect and disregard. Writers can go with a publishing house if they want to. But if they don’t want to, they have the feasible option of self-publishing.

Judging by the sheer number of self-published works available to readers, a whole lot of writers don’t WANT to go with publishing houses.

The publishers have stood between writers and readers for so long they believe they are essential to the process. Thousands of writers and millions of readers are proving that not only are publishers non-essential, but in many cases they throw up unnecessary barriers and actively interfere with the connection between writers and readers.

Publishers are running scared. Fewer writers are demanding entry at the clubhouse door. Many couldn’t care less that the clubhouse even exists. My God, publishers and agents are being *gulp* rejected. Writers no longer fear being “blacklisted” and are talking openly in blogs and forums about publishers and contracts and money and all those other “forbidden” topics that publishers don’t want discussed. The feasibility of self-publishing has proved the trad publishers are non-essential–now they are running the risk of becoming non-entities.

That’s where the nastiness is coming from. This is what has reduced publishers and agents to act like that jerk in the bar who, upon being snubbed by a pretty girl, calls her a “fat lesbo who hates men.” Sorry, fella, she just hates you.

There are some things the traditional publishers are very good at and they have the infrastructure and connections and experience to do them exceptionally well. Unfortunately, for them, a lot of things they do well can also be done very well by the self-publisher. And, the self-publisher can do it faster and more cheaply. Doubly unfortunately, what publishers don’t do well at all is compete. They don’t like being reduced to “an option.” The days are over when they can sit back and wait for treasure to fall into their laps. The days are over when they can say, “My way or the highway,” because nowadays that highway is pretty damned tempting.

This little commentary of mine isn’t about “Us versus Them.” It’s not a declaration of war. As a reader I don’t give a damn who publishes the writers I like. I’ll discuss pros and cons of publishing options with any writer who asks–and there are pros and cons with all options. This is a reality check. My data might be all anecdotal (except for my dealings with multiple publishers and agents and the contracts I’ve signed), but it is twenty-plus years of anecdotes. I can read the signs. I can see with my own eyes what is going on. The question is, can you?

What Makes Self-Publishing Fun

Alert: for the second time this week, this post is not about producing ebooks.

It’s not my habit to use this blog to promote books. I’m not big on marketing and promotion. I do urge my friends to read books all the time, sometimes to the point of obnoxiousness and sometimes will resort to gifting them books from Amazon so they HAVE to read whatever I’m excited about. But other than an occasional tweet or talking about books on my other blog (which I haven’t done enough of lately) I rarely do that with strangers.

Today, though, I want you to buy a book.

It’s a short story and it’s only .99 cents on Amazon. It’s about zombies, so it may not appeal to everybody. Maybe you could gift it to a friend. Or give it a tweet or a mention on Goodreads or whatever it is you happen to do. You could even read it and review it.

Junk_Mail_CoverLet me tell you why.

I get emails from folks who solved a problem or learned a new trick from reading this blog. They say thank you. I’ve had emails from folks who’ve dipped their toes in self-publishing waters and found out the water is just fine, and they say they got up the nerve to try because this blog encouraged them to do so. They say thank you. I’ve made friends who’ve helped me and I help them and there are thank you’s all around. I look at the search queries that bring visitors to this blog and it gives me a good feeling knowing they are finding some answers. It makes me feel useful and for that I feel thankful.

None of this would happened without one person. If you’ve learned something or felt inspired to self-publish or to make more beautiful ebooks or striven to meet new challenges because of something you’ve read on this blog, you should thank Marina Bridges.

I met Marina many moons ago on the eBay blogs. Our senses of humor clicked. When I found out that not only was Marina funny as could be, but that she wrote, too, I started bugging her for stories. When I began looking at self-publishing. I asked Marina if she’d be interested in being the “test” case, so to speak. She said yes and that’s how it started. We bought Kindles. We got hooked. I started the process of learning how to produce an ebook. Marina trusted me to get better. That’s a terrific quality in a friend, by the way. I’d propose something nutty and she’d say, “Um… okay,” and then I’d scamper off to do the nutty thing. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t, but she always had faith that I’d figure it out.

She’s still my biggest supporter. Most days the chat box is open and she gets to “hear” me bitching about my computer or railing against my own idiocy when I screw something up. Whenever I figure something out or produce something nifty, I send her screenshots and she listens while I crow. It must bore her to tears when I’m problem-solving “out loud” about formatting issues, but she never says it does. She listens. When I’m feeling down, she writes stories and sends me snippets to make me laugh. (somehow, ahem, always forgetting to issue a spew alert)

She is the number one reason book production and self-publishing is fun for me. She doesn’t let me get too serious–she mocks me heartily when I do. She encourages me when I feel stupid and out of my league. She’s always ready to say, “Oh go ahead, you can do that.” She keeps it real and she keeps it fun.

There is no Thank You in the world big enough for that.

So. If you have ever felt the urge to say thank you to me for this blog, the very best way you can do that is to thank Marina and buy her short story. It’s a little thing, but it would mean the world to me.

Junk Mail, a Kindle short story, on Amazon.

Producing A Kindle Ebook: Design Choices

When Lawrence Block told me he had written a brand new short story about Martin H. Ehrengraf (The Ehrengraf Settlement) and he wanted to produce a collection with all eleven Ehrengraf stories, I was excited. Not just because there is a new story, but because I had ideas.

Here’s the thing. Lawrence Block is an important writer. No matter the format in which his writing is featured–hard cover, paperback, magazine, ebook–the medium should reflect the quality of the writing. I’ve called the Kindle ebooks print books’ “ugly cousins” because of the gray scale screen, uniform page layout, limited typography and the producer’s inability to control the amount of text readers see on the screen. In an earlier post I mulled over why readers seem to be reading differently on the Kindle and in another why some people don’t think of ebooks as “actual” books. Because of that mulling and thanks to insightful readers, I began to think that maybe “ugly cousin” was wrong, but that instead we’re dealing with an “ugly duckling” and there are swans awaiting to be born.

To turn this ebook into a swan, I had two goals:

  • Reader friendly
  • Make it look worthy of the material

To make the ebook reader-friendly, I tackled it on two fronts. The first was with the source files. That required squeaky clean files with no extra spaces or hidden codes. This isn’t rocket science, but it requires paying attention to details such as uniform punctuation. I produced clean source files which I then loaded into Scrivener for formatting.

The second front was in arrangement. Mr. Block wrote these stories in order, so it made perfect sense to put them in the order they were written. Since his fans also enjoy his forewords, introductions and afterwords, it also made sense to include those in the book. Because the main character, Martin H. Ehrengraf, is enamored by poetry and often quotes it, each story has an epigraph consisting of poetry or a poetic quote. Here is where I had to make some design decisions. Do I compile the introduction, epigraph and story into a unit? Place the epigraph above or below the chapter head? I decided to split it all up. The introductions are small stories in and of themselves. The epigraphs would serve as “appetizers” giving the reader a visual rest from the story text. Plus, by setting them off, they are given weight and help to set the tone for the story to come.

This then led to another decision. How to set up the Table of Contents? The story titles and introductions were a no-brainer. But what about the epigraphs? List them as “Epigraph: Story Title” or just use the story title or how about the first line of the epigraph itself? So I asked myself, how do I find quotations when I’m looking for inspiration? Either by subject or author. Since the stories are the subject, I chose to go with the author’s name. It’s my hope that readers will be intrigued by the included names and perhaps find it useful in case they wonder, “Now what was that line from William Shakespeare?”

Now the arrangement was reader friendly. On to making the ebook look good. Make it look worthy of the material.

As anyone who’s produced a Kindle ebook knows, choices in design are limited. Typographical choices are limited, with the standards being Times New Roman (serif) or Arial (sans serif); and it’s best to limit font sizes because the conversion program can get pissy when given too many options. I went with 12 point Times New Roman–serviceable and easy to read. Because I have no control over justification or even how much text a reader opts to show on the screen, I went with consistency over attempts at fancy. I happen to think that narrow indents look better than wide indents, so I set paragraph indents at .3″. I also had to decide how to set off quoted material within the text. My first instinct was to set it off with a wider indent. The danger there is the way the Kindle justifies text and word wraps. In most of the quoted text, the lines are so short neither justification nor word wrapping was a problem, but there were a few long lines. Since I wanted consistency throughout, I went with no indents and italicized text.

When comparing it to a printed book (with kerning and a human hand fiddling with it) it’s not the same. But in an ebook, it works well because it is consistent and even if the reader increases the size of the text, there’s less chance for words to go staggering all over the page. I had tried setting off the quotations further by inserting a line before and after, but felt it set it off too much and made it look disconnected.

That was about as far as I could go with the limited layout options. So that left small details to play with.

Mr. Block used a clipboard and gavel graphic for the book covers. I used it to create the title page and story titles.

I chose AR Julian for the title font because it’s meaty and masculine, but elegant, too, and I thought it complemented the tone of the stories. Notice, too, the “running heads.” One problem I have with Kindle ebooks is I sometimes forget the title of what I’m reading. Unlike some other ereaders, Kindle doesn’t insert true running heads on the pages and there is no way for the producer to insert them. So what I did was insert a faux-running head at the top of the introductions and epigraphs, and at the beginning of each story. Because I’d put the author’s name in the story title graphics, I left-justified the story running head and left off the author name. I thought the slightly different arrangement would help to delineate the story from the introductory material.

I also made a graphic to use for the scene break indicators. I think producers should always use some kind of indicator for scene breaks because there is no way to control the amount of text on the screen and sometimes line breaks can be lost when the reader changes the page. I could have used asterisks or pound signs, but Martin H. Ehrengraf is a bit of a dandy and needed something to complement his elegant clothes and formal manner of speaking.

Notice, too, that at the beginning of each story and scene I removed the indent and bolded the first three words. I have tried faux-drop caps (made by increasing the font size by two points and bolding the letter) but there lies danger. If a reader changes the font size for readability, there is a risk of a hiccup. Bolding three words and not indenting the paragraph is a simple way to set off the text and indicate a new beginning.

I happen to enjoy back matter. I read it all. I’m sure many other readers enjoy it, too. With no concerns for paper or printing costs, there is no reason to skimp on the back matter. In this case, the author included an Afterword, information about himself and a list of titles and links. I included a photo of the author.

The author photo is in color. It looks very good, nice and clear, but I believe a black-and-white photo would have been better. Black-and-white photos, with their lighting suited for gray-scale, look great on the Kindle screen. Something for authors to keep in mind the next time they have an author photo taken.

Overall, I think I achieved my goals. Reader Friendly and Worthy of the Material. The real question is, Does it matter? Plain formatting takes a few hours at most, depending on how clean the source file is–producing this book took me several days. Besides, it’s the stories that matter, right? As long as the stories are good, does the fiddling and tinkering and rearranging and fancy bits make any difference? You wouldn’t serve fine wine in a chipped jelly jar, right? Or serve filet mignon on a paper plate with sauce slopped around willy-nilly and few burned potatoes on the side? Presentation matters in food and it matters in literature. Limitations in Kindle ebook design notwithstanding, with care and thought, the overall reader experience can be enhanced and the stories themselves are well-served. To me it’s well worth the extra time and effort.

Mr. Block tells me he will be making the very first Ehrengraf story, The Ehrengraf Defense, FREE on Amazon for a limited time. That should happen on Thursday. If you can’t wait that long, all eleven Ehrengraf stories are available as singles, or you can find them all in one collection, Ehrengraf For The Defense. Fun to read and it looks great, too.

Ebook Formatting Resources

There has been a lot of interest in my posts on ebook formatting. So rather than make people wade through the entire blog, I put all the links on one page. You can find it in the header under Ebook Formatting Resources or click here.

I’ve linked all my posts on the subject, plus added links to useful sites and resources for the DIY indie. I’ll continue to update the page as I learn new tricks or find useful new blogs and websites.

Ebooks: Back Matter Matters

Do you enjoy extras in your ebooks? About the Author, reader letters, a note from the editor, teasers from other books, lists (in order) of the author’s other works, reviews? I do. I read everything. Even ads for other books and special promotions. I even read the little notices in some hardcover volumes that describes the typeface used and gives a bit of history.

I admit I am an oddball, but surely I am not alone in this? I didn’t think so.

What surprises me is how poorly many self-publishers exploit the back matter in their ebooks. I read ebooks that might have a tiny About the Author blurb and maybe a few titles listed. I’ve read others that have no back matter at all. The text ends, then nothing.

Let’s discuss this a moment, shall we? As I’ve stated before, the back matter in an ebook is valuable real estate. And it is, hard cost-wise, free. Print volumes can’t always justify the cost of extra pages and added labor costs. Ebooks can’t justify the cost of NOT including extra material. For indies, it is probably the absolutely best way to talk directly to readers and hand-sell their other works.

The best thing of all? You are not limited as to what you include (except by the distributor’s TOS). No space limitations. The more readers read, the more YOU will sink into their consciousness. If you make that connection, the next time they see your name on a book cover, the more likely they are to give it at least a second look.

So let’s brainstorm a bit. What makes great back matter material?

  • About the Author. Of course. And of course, most writers don’t do them well. They get self-conscious. Worry about looking like an idiot. Don’t know what’s important, what’s not. Many About the Author pages read like a resume or a curriculum vitae. They’re boring and sound pretentious. If you are comfortable talking about yourself in a friendly manner, you are ahead of the game. For the rest of you (me, too) a few suggestions. Keep it short and sweet (a hundred words, more or less). Show a bit of personality. Tell readers something they might never guess from reading your books (at his day job, Novelist is a tree surgeon). If you’ve won a major award(s) readers might actually have heard of, include that, briefly. Clue readers in to your geographic location (it is astonishing how powerful a connection location can be).
  • Dear Reader Letter. Unlike About the Author, the reader letter is more about the book and the writing. Come on, writers, what question do you hear from non-writers all the time? Say it with me now: Where do you get your ideas? The reader letter is your opportunity to answer that question. Talk about where the book was born, the inspiration, the research, maybe even liberties you took with the facts. This is your opportunity to get chummy with readers, to make them feel part of the process. You know you love talking about your work. Here’s your chance. Have fun with it.
  • Reviews. Yes! If you have advance reviews or the book is a reissue or you have reviews for other titles, by all means include them. I suggest you show restraint out of consideration for the readers. Take your cues from the big publishers and include excerpted blurbs of one or two sentences, max. Trust me, no reader cares as much about your glowing reviews as you do. Your goal is to assure readers that others have liked your books. It might inspire them to leave their own review. Make sure you properly attribute the reviewers.
  • Book Covers and Descriptions. Promo your other titles with a thumbnail of the book cover and a description. Make sure your name is prominent on the page.
  • Teasers. A first chapter or a juicy excerpt from another of your titles makes a sweet bonus.
  • Cross-Promotion. A teaser from another writer’s title. You might also consider an If You Like page. Can’t go wrong helping out your fellow indies.
  • Bonus Fiction. Do you have a short short story or flash fiction? Or how about poetry? Think of it as a little gift, a surprise for the readers.
  • Recipes or How-To Instructions. Another bonus for readers. If your characters enjoy meals made with your own recipes, include it. If your characters do something interesting in the book that you exhaustively researched or have expertise with, why not provide how-to instructions? (How to mount a cannon on a Buick: Materials: Cannon, Duct Tape)
  • Letter From the Editor: This can serve two purposes. One, that you even have an editor ups the reader’s opinion of your work. Two, it’s an opportunity for a third party to talk about how special your work is. Can’t hurt.
  • Acknowledgements. It’s always nice to say thank you.
  • Maps. Have you created a fantasy world? Is yours an historical novel? Are you a smart aleck on par with Charlie Huston’s Joe Pitt? (the maps in the Joe Pitt Case Books are hysterical) This bit of back matter might cost some dollars, unless you’re a graphic artist and actually know how to draw maps. It is something to consider.
  • Bibliography. If you’ve done extensive research, your readers might be the type who enjoy research, too.
  • Links. Read your ebook distributor’s TOS to know what is allowed. Generally, live links to your website and blog are okay. Invite readers to follow you on Twitter, Facebook and other social media. Create a special email account for fan mail.

I don’t recommend special promotions. Even though it’s fairly common in mass market paperbacks, there is a Right Now quality about ebooks without the clues that a book is older. Unless you are willing to re-upload the ebook after the special promotion is done, it could create bad feelings if a reader tries to redeem an expired coupon code or finds out the book you touted as on sale is now back at the regular price.

So there are some ideas for you to consider. Does anyone else have suggestions?

Boast Post #2–And A Word About Prejudice

This week I helped launch an indie novel. The writer did the hard part: she wrote the novel. I did the fun part:  editorial, badgering her with a zillion questions, making her write a bunch of additional material, asking more questions, and formatting the ebook. She contracted with a talented designer to create a cover. Indie authors have their work cut out for them when it comes to covers, too, even if they hire out. The author serves as the de facto art department, doing the research, finding the artwork, making suggestions and approvals, but most of all trusting in the wisdom and skill of the designer she’s chosen.

Then, yesterday, I was reading The Passive Voice blog and saw a few comments that made me realize the old prejudices against self-publishing are still alive and kicking. Nothing big, nothing I haven’t seen before, and even (I am so ashamed) thought myself at a point in my past.

The prejudice is that self-published novels, and their writers, are lesser things.

I’m here to tell you, I have evidence in my hot little Kindle, that is not so. In fact, I would gladly, and with utter confidence, put the novel Julia Barrett wrote, I produced and Winterheart Design designed a cover for up against any romance novel coming out of New York.

That’s not bias, it’s experience. I’ve published 17 novels with a traditional publisher, plus a lot of other stuff. I’ve worked with three publishing houses, quite a few editors, agents, art departments and booksellers. More importantly, I’m a reader. I’ve read thousands of books in every genre, and from across the ages. I know the difference between good and bad writing. I know when a book has quality production. I am confident you could blind test our novel against any produced by the Big 6 or Harlequin, and no reader could pick Beauty and the Feast out as the self-published entry. (Well, okay, if they looked at the formatting and realized it’s far superior to what many of the traditional publishers are producing–and charging a premium price for. Are you listening, HarperCollins? Formatting is not that hard. Really. Trust me.)

Look at number one, Beauty and the Feast. Readers are recognizing quality, too.

Here’s the thing about prejudice. It isn’t evil. It’s lazy. It’s a way to not have to think about our fears. Isn’t it easier to say, “Oh, I don’t like black people. They’re all shiftless,” then it is to actually get over your fear of strangers? Isn’t it easier to think, “Rich people are cheating, evil, power hungry scum,” then it is to beat oneself up over our own failure to put in the hard work, sacrifice, and long hours it takes to become rich? Isn’t it easier to utterly dismiss self-publishers as hacks who lack the patience (and talent) to get a NY contract than it is to examine our own failings and fears about our publishing careers?

This post isn’t an invitation to start a pissing contest about the merits of self-publishing versus traditional publishing. I’ve heard it all, trust me. There’s crap on both sides of the street. I get it. Because I’m old and actually pay attention to things, here’s a head’s up for you young’uns. There will always be crap in the street. That’s life. Deal with it.

This post is a reminder that the person truly harmed by prejudice is the person with the prejudice. Prejudice narrows your life.

And writers? Prejudice is lazy thinking and lazy thinking produces bad fiction. At its core, good fiction is all about using made-up shit in order to tell the truth. You have to be able to think in order to accomplish that.